Published Feb 28, 2018Red Sparrow, a serviceable spy thriller, makes the most of Jennifer Lawrence's icy-yet-evocative stare in a performance that carries much of the film. But it doesn't quite rise up to the task of being truly engaging, and in the end, becomes 2018's answer to Atomic Blonde — another film that was visually explosive, but lacked depth or an engaging plot.
Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorova, a Russian ballerina whose career is tragically cut short by a leg injury. With no other way to support her infirm mother (Joely Richardson), Dominika reluctantly accepts an espionage job from her smarmy uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts). When the mission goes horribly awry, as a witness, Dominika is given a choice: be killed, or attend an elite school and learn to become a "sparrow" — essentially, a sexual secret agent.
Much of Domnika's "training" teaches her to be a sexual tool whose body belongs to the state and is not her own. It's discomforting to watch, to say the least. Dominika excels at the art of seduction, but she clearly despises the shame of having to give up her body and her dignity in the name of a brutal regime — and in order to survive. Lawrence gives Dominika a proud defiance that, thankfully, avoids her from falling into the trope of a victimized woman.
To its credit, the film does attempt to make a point about the harsh realities of a woman's place in a patriarchal world, but its hard to take this message seriously when Red Sparrow has such an identity crisis. Does it want to be a dark, gritty spy drama or a seductive thrill ride? It comes close to succeeding at both, but in the end is neither.
By the time Dominika tackles her first assignment, to get close to CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) in order to uncover the identity of a Russian mole, Red Sparrow becomes more interested in exploring a series of twists and turns that aren't as engaging as they hope to be. The film desperately wants us to become invested in Dominika and Nate's sexual chemistry, but it's such a strange 180 from the brutal coercion and violence at the Sparrow School. It's difficult to find a film like Red Sparrow sexy, even when the sex is consensual.
The film's last act is a bit of a muddling mess — Dominika and Nate's cat-and-mouse game comes too late. Red Sparrow spends so much time at Sparrow School that the series of rug-pullers that occupy its final arc are poorly paced. Lawrence maintains admirable nerve and charisma throughout, but Red Sparrow is never as interesting as it wants to be.
(Twentieth Century Studios)